When it comes to buying produce, my eyes are almost always bigger than my stomach. Every week I come home from the grocery store convinced that we’ll easily eat our way through the bags of produce I buy, and inevitably, we throw out whatever is wilting in the crisper a week later.
It’s a dumb and wasteful habit, I know. But apparently I am not the only one. Some 40 percent of the food produced in the US is thrown away—that’s 200 million pounds of food needlessly tossed away every day.
Obviously, much of the solution lies in curbing our purchasing behavior. However, there is one neat innovation—developed by Kavita Shukla when she was a high school senior, believe it or not—that might help reduce some of the waste from over-zealous shoppers.
Kavita Shukla created Fenugreen FreshPaper, small squares of spice-infused paper that extends the shelf life of produce up to four times longer than usual. While the mix of spices is propriety (the only spice Kavita has revealed in fenugreek), it’s a blend her grandmother concocted to ward off illness. After careful experimentation, Kavita found that the preventative blend also inhibits bacterial and fungal growth on produce, as well as the enzymes that cause fruit to over-ripen.
By fusing the spices into paper, Kavita has created what’s being dubbed the “dryer sheet for produce.” Whether you stick it in your fruit bowl or in the crisper, the sheets prolong produce's shelf-life. Each certified organic and biodegradable sheet lasts two to three weeks, until its distinctive maple-like scent begins to fade – at that point, the ingredients are no longer active.
FreshPaper recently became available at Whole Foods. This significant boost in distribution has allowed Kavita to start a “Buy-One-Give-One” program benefiting local food banks.
Given the severe droughts of the past year and the pressing food crisis, it’s never been more apparent that reducing food waste is critically important.
The potential for this simple innovation is massive. Kavita is looking to lunch programs across the US, as well as eventually bringing the sheets to developing countries where refrigeration is scarce and the problem of keeping produce fresh is obviously much worse.
When you consider that spoilage contributes to about a third of the global food supply going to waste each year, this little sheet of paper and spices can play a big role.
So yes, I need to learn to reduce my excitement when buying produce, but when I get it wrong (which inevitably I will) I’ll be glad to have a few of these sheets working their magic.